Tuesday, March 17, 2020

My Monthly Column – March 2020

PS families: Social distancing critical to keep everyone safe
By Xavier Botana

The new coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is evolving rapidly, and the Portland Public Schools has closed all its facilities until March 30. We are transitioning to remote learning and have arranged for the distribution of school meals. I’m writing here now with another important message: It’s critical for families and students to also do their part during this crisis to help keep everyone safe.

We recognize the hardship that the school closure represents for families and our staff. I didn’t make the decision to close lightly – it was an extremely difficult choice but we determined that it is the most responsible one to protect everyone’s health. Our students and families also need to take this situation very seriously. Everyone should understand the very real potential for additional community spread of the virus if they don't practice “social distancing.” 

It’s important that families don’t think of this closure as a series of “snow days” in which students are free to indulge in any social activity they want because the learning will be made-up at a later date. Activities like gathering in groups, holding sleepovers, going out to eat or have coffee with friends and roaming the neighborhood will potentially add to community spread of the virus. . Parents, I’m asking you to please take responsibility for suspending these activities and limiting your family’s social contact as much as possible!

Social distancing is  socially responsible during this crisis. Please read: “Social Distancing: This is Not a Snow Day,” by Dr. Asaf Bitton.

Families, please also make clear to your children that this is not a holiday from learning. Remote learning begins Wednesday, March 18. Schools will be taking attendance and we are establishing expectations for work completion.

I sent a letter to families on March 16 that details how families will be able to access learning materials and tech devices.  The letter also details how our Food Service Department will begin distributing meals starting March 18 to students 18 and under at these sites: Riverton, East End, Presumpscot, Rowe and Peaks Island elementary schools, King and Lyman Moore middle schools and Deering High School. Families should go to the site most convenient for them.  

When picking up food at our distribution sites, we encourage families to continue to be proactive in reducing the risk of COVID-19 by not congregating at the sites
once meals have been distributed. Also, to maximize social distancing, families are asked to only come to pick up learning materials at distribution sites/your child’s school if your child is not able to access the materials online. Please only pick up tech devices if your child doesn’t have an alternate device at home.

I will add here that, given the challenges around the COVID- 19 crisis, I have withdrawn from my recommended FY21 school budget a proposal to implement a reconfiguration of our elementary schools. I feel it’s responsible to take a step back and work on an implementation plan with a longer timeline. With public meetings curtailed because of the virus, it would be difficult to have a meaningful public discussion about the proposal at this time. I propose implementation in the 2021-2022 school year, which will give us time to engage the community in this important step towards a more equitable system.  

The evolving nature of this pandemic is uncharted territory. However, we will be able to confront the challenges it poses if we all pull together as a community in support of our students. Stay safe.

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